After years of anticipation the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) will finally welcome the public to its new home at 34 Isabella St, launching with a grand opening celebration on Sat, Sep 26.
“It’ll be a space where there’ll be an awful lot more interaction, as well as the repository of our history,” says CLGA vice president Dennis Findlay.
Findlay says the new and improved digs — which include a public reading room, gallery and meeting space — will raise the profile of the organization and collection, as well as create a space for the community to come together.
“As you walk through the house the walls will be festooned with things that came into our possession…. It’ll be a lovely welcoming space,” says Findlay. “People will be able to walk through our history in a visual kind of way.”
After years of operating out of a second-floor space at the corner of Church and Wellesley — which will continue to house part of the archive’s collection of books, magazines, clippings, audiovisual materials and miscellanea — the move marks a turning point for the organization, says longtime volunteer Gordon Richardson.
“It’s a new spirit of cooperation and interaction,” says Richardson. “We have been so much on our own.”
It’s been a long haul since the symbolic key to the building was passed from Toronto city councillor Kyle Rae to then CLGA president Matt Hughes at the archive’s 30th anniversary celebration in October 2003. The three-storey home, built in the 1850s and now valued at more than $1 million, was donated to CLGA as part of a deal coordinated by the City of Toronto; condo developers Cresford Developments kicked in $250,000 for the renovations as part of a deal that allowed the company to build additional floors on its nearby condo tower.
“That money really got the renovation going,” says Richardson, adding that there were a number of unexpected repairs required including leaks in the roof, sloping floors and missing structural supports. The size of the collection — which CLGA boasts is the second largest queer collection in the world — meant the floors needed to be reinforced to support the weight.
But the Cresford donation didn’t cover the full cost of the renovations.
“The ballpark costs on the upgrade and restoration and renovation of the house will be around $500,000,” says Findlay. “More than half of that has been raised from other than government funding, in other words from private donations, bequests and fundraising. And we still need people to be generous. We now have to pay for the maintenance and running of the operation, we need to hire a general manager, we need to continue paying for the space at Wellesley which houses a huge portion of our collection and we have more material coming to us every day.”
To that end CLGA is launching a $1.5-million endowment campaign, spearheaded by Bill Graham and Jaime Watt.
The materials collected by CLGA — which was founded in 1973 as part of The Body Politic, Xtra’s predecessor — provides a great deal of insight into the gains gays and lesbians have achieved in recent decades, says Findlay.
“We didn’t get here by accident,” he says. “There’s been a lot of history that’s gone into changing our society at many different levels — the social level, the institutions of government, policing, healthcare. All those institutions had to be brought forward in a better understanding of how to deal with people in an equal manner…. We didn’t get there in one fell swoop. We didn’t get there one person doing it. We got there as a community.
“The really important thing that I hope people would become more aware of is that we are all part of history. We’re in a very fortunate place and the archives are where you can learn an awful lot of how we got from where we were to where we are and where we’re going. It’s not a dead institution it’s a living institution and we want to make it more alive and this house will certainly allow us to make it more alive.”